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McCain Talks Tough on Crime at Sheriffs’ Convention « The Washington Independent

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Sen. John McCain returned to the Rust Belt today, paying a quick visit to the land of Hoosiers, corn and Mellencamp. In town for less than four hours, McCain gave a speech to the National Sheriff’s Assn.’s 68th Annual Conference and attended a fund-raiser here before heading off to Colombia to promote free trade and meet with President Alvaro Uribe.

Indiana, a historically conservative state — George W. Bush defeated Sen. John Kerry here in 2004 by a whopping 21 percentage points — could be shaping up to be yet another Midwestern battleground. The political handicappers over at FiveThirtyEight.com are calling the state literally a tossup — equally likely to go for McCain or Sen. Barack Obama in November. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton had pulled out a squeaker here in the May 6 Democratic primary, defeating Obama by just two points, amid reports that Rush Limbaugh’s minions worked to tilt the election in her favor.

Since this is a sheriffs’ convention, it came as no surprise that McCain would use today’s speech to flash his tough-on-crime credentials — and he didn’t disappoint. After announcing that he brought along Sens. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), McCain kicked off his speech by thanking the roughly 2,000 law enforcement officers in attendance for their "often hard, sometimes heroic and always necessary" work. The likely GOP nominee then went on to sing the praises of Ronald Reagan — for taking a hard-line approach to criminal justice:

"When President Ronald Reagan came before this organization in 1984, he spoke of a ‘new mandate from the American people.’ He described some of the social theories of the preceding decades, and how these fashionable ideas had fostered a permanent criminal class of violent repeat offenders. In the 1960s and ’70s, violent crime had increased throughout most of our country. In some cities, people felt as if their neighborhoods were under hostile occupation. At the federal level, President Reagan offered a different approach to criminal justice, focused on vigorous enforcement and stricter sentencing. Criminal justice reform is a part of the Reagan revolution that is often forgotten today. But over time, America became a better, safer and more just country because of those reforms."

McCain then proceeded with a litany of law enforcement policies he would enact as president, including an expansion of the portion of the radio spectrum dedicated for law enforcement and public-service personnel, and a promise to take a "zero-tolerance" approach to cracking down on Internet sexual predators:

"To prevent and punish the exploitation of children, the surest policy is zero-tolerance. When anyone is convicted of a sexual assault on a child, they should stay in prison for a long time, and their names should stay forever on the National Sex Offender Public Registry. When they are released — if they are released — they should be tracked both in their physical movements and in their Internet usage. And under a bill I have authored as a senator, and intend to sign into law as president, we’re going to get serious against Internet predators: Anyone who uses the Internet in the commission of a crime of child exploitation is going offline and into prison for an additional 10 years."

If there was any question that this was a friendly crowd, it was laid to rest when McCain lashed out at the recent Supreme Court decision that struck down a Louisiana law allowing the death penalty for the rape of children. After commending Obama for expressing his opposition to the ruling, McCain wondered aloud if the likely Democratic nominee and former law professor had had a change of heart on his votes against the confirmations of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito. He then drew raucous applause when he praised the justices as "two of the finest individuals ever appointed to the United States Supreme Court." He followed this with a pledge about judicial nominations:

"Should I be elected president, I will look for accomplished men and women with a proven record of excellence in the law, and a proven commitment to judicial restraint. They will be the kind of judges who believe in giving everyone in a criminal court their due: justice for the guilty and the innocent, compassion for the victims and respect for the men and women of law enforcement."

McCain also received some laughs when he said there would be "a new sheriff in town" on Congressional earmarks, and he got a standing ovation for pledging to restore funding for Byrne/Justice Assistance Grants, often used to finance local anti-drug task forces — and much of which was recently diverted to anti-narcotics programs in Mexico.

McCain played it safe on illegal immigration — a high-priority issue with this crowd — faulting the federal government for inaction on securing the border. He promised he would expand the Criminal Alien Program for the deportation of illegal immigrants who commit crimes.

After all the tough talk, McCain ended on an upbeat note and appeared to express support for "faith-based initiatives." McCain recounted the story of an Indiana convict who was forgiven by the son of his murder victim and paroled. He promised his administration would support "churches and community groups" who work with ex-convicts to help them find jobs and housing.

The National Sheriffs’ Assn. sent McCain away with several thank you gifts, including a mug, a binder and a book on the history of American sheriffs. Also noteworthy: another guest of honor was Erik Estrada, better known as "Ponch" from the 1970s TV show "CHiPs," and a deputy Bedford County, Va. sheriff.

More later from Colombia…

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